The annual call to “hit the slopes” usually means speed and exercise amid the thrilling beauty of nature. This year is more like heading to the DMV.
New data shows that ski resorts this winter have been slowed down – even brought to a halt – by major staff shortages, and for holidaymakers and leisure enthusiasts, that means more queues than time on the Alps . The culprit might surprise you.
Get in line
Staff shortages are nothing new in the ski industry. The National Association of Ski Resorts said 60% of resorts were not fully staffed in winter 2020-21, and this year resorts have again been operating with reduced crews. The resort town of Killington in Vermont, for example, said staff levels were down 20% to 30% and it was offering limited service. Local rival Magic Mountain couldn’t even open a day this month because there weren’t enough security staff. Vail Resorts in Colorado, which operates 37 ski areas, has been hit by a petition signed by 44,000 people complaining of queues longer than a Tolstoy novel at its Stevens Pass resort in the state from Washington.
The fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be an obvious culprit – Vail told the New York Times that the variant laid off up to 10% of its employees at a time. But that’s not really the biggest driver of staff shortages, according to industry insiders. Real estate is:
- Ski resort workers have struggled to afford the increasingly expensive and scarce housing stock in dreamy mountain environments dominated by wealthy landlords, even as many resorts have raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour.
- In 2021, homebuyers spent the most on Colorado resort town real estate when $11.2 billion changed hands in the state’s eight western-slope counties.
“Everything dried up,” said Jim Laing, manager of the Aspen Skiing Company. Time, adding that buyers have been converting long-term rentals to short-term rentals to make more money, excluding resort staff. “Overnight, we went from challenge mode to crisis mode.”
Take a pass: Some have suggested that Vail’s resorts are struggling because the company sold 700,000 more of its Epic Pass, which grants access to multiple resorts, than last year by marking it at a 20% discount. But pass holders haven’t taken advantage of the windfall: skier visits are actually down 1.7% this season from 2020-21, and down 18.3% from 2019 -2020.